State budget sails through Senate

Rep. Brown’s effort to fund building maintenance doesn’t make final cut

DENVER – Senators voted 30-5 for the state budget Thursday, proof that a little extra money can buy the Legislature a lot of good feelings.

The vote follows last week’s 64-1 approval in the House, making it the first time in the careers of any current legislator that there has been such agreement on the budget.

Senators had plenty to be happy about.

For the first time in three years, the state is not confiscating money from natural-gas and oil taxes that is earmarked for local governments impacted by drilling.

The money should help towns build badly needed projects, said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton.

“That’s infrastructure. That’s construction jobs,” Hodge said.

The $19 billion budget also keeps funding per student at the same level as last year – the first time in three years it wasn’t cut.

A slowly improving economy has pumped more money into state coffers and gave legislators enough money to fund most of their priorities.

However, the Senate reversed a move by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, to spend $13 million in a trust fund for building maintenance. Senators voted to keep the money in cash in case of an emergency, such as a wildfire.

“We need to have some money for actual emergency management,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs. “Otherwise, we’re going to be dipping into other investments, most of them at an inopportune time to sell them.”

Several senators targeted the money for different purposes, including Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, who argued passionately to restore circumcision coverage to Medicaid patients.

The Senate voted against her amendment Wednesday, and Thursday she told senators not to pat themselves on the back too hard.

“We didn’t increase very much money to schools. We just didn’t cut any more from schools,” Foster said. “Our class sizes are full and big, and our teachers are being laid off.”

The budget is expected to go to Gov. John Hickenlooper next week, after the House and Senate resolve minor differences.

All three legislators from the Four Corners voted for the budget – Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio; and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

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